El 11 de Abril del 2011 Walter Prudencio Magne Veliz, Embajador del Estado Plurinacional de Boliva en Alemania, pronunció un discurso en el Coloquio de los Estudios Interamericanos de la Universidad de Bielefeld sobre los nuevos procesos en Boliva con una especial atención a la controversia de la cultivación de la coca. Nosotros, el Grupo de Estudios InterAmericanos, tuvimos la oportunidad de charlar con él sobre su trabajo como Embajador en Alemania y también sobre los cambios en la política y la sociedad boliviana y sobre conceptos indígenas y su papel en el gobierno de Evo Morales.
Walter Prudencio Magne Veliz nació en 1960 en la ciudad andina de Oruro, Bolivia, a tres horas de La Paz. Estudió Comunicación en Oruro, Antropologia en La Paz y estuvo tres semestres en la Academia de Cine y Televisión en Munich, Alemania. A parte de su puesto oficial de Embajador, Magne Veliz lucha por los derechos de los pueblos indígenas y la cultivación de la coca en los Andes.
El Grupo de Estudios Interamericanos es un grupo autorganizado de estudiantes de grado, postgrado y doctorado de la Universidad de Bielefeld que están interesados en temas relacionados con la historia, la política y la cultura de las Americas. Cuando comprobamos y editamos la entrevista en el verano del 2011 el grupo estaba compuesto por Martin Breuer, Kiara Fiorella Abad Bruzzo, Laura Mendez, Marc Hesling, Felipe van der Huck, Lukas Schenk, Pedro Velasquez, Jan Dirk Wiewelhove y Serena Wördenweber.
On the 11th of April 2011, Walter Prudencio Magne Veliz, Ambassador of the Plurinational State of Bolivia in Germany, held a talk at the InterAmerican Studies Colloquium of the Bielefeld University about new developments in Bolivia, with a special focus on indigenous rights and the controversy of the cultivation of coca. We, the InterAmerican Study Group, had the chance to talk to him about his work as Ambassador in Germany, about changes in the Bolivian society and politics and indigenous concepts and their role in the government of Evo Morales.
Walter Prudencio Magne Veliz was born in 1960 in the Andean city of Oruro, Bolivia, about three hours south of La Paz. He studied Communications in Oruro, Anthropology in the city of La Paz and spent three semesters at the Academy of Film and Television in Munich, Germany. In 2006
, he became the first indigenous Ambassador of Bolivia in Germany. In addition to his official post as Ambassador, Magne Veliz fights for the rights of indigenous people and the cultivation of coca in the Andean region.
The InterAmerican Study Group is a self organized group of BA, MA and PhD students from the Bielefeld University, interested in issues concerning history, politics, and culture in the Americas. At the time we recorded and edited the interview, in the summer of 2011, the following students participated in the Study Group: Martin Breuer, Kiara Fiorella Abad Bruzzo, Laura Mendez, Marc Hesling, Felipe van der Huck, Lukas Schenk, Pedro Velasques, Jan Dirk Wiewelhove and Serena Wördenweber.
Translated Interview transcript (English):
Good evening, dear Mr. Ambassador. First of all, welcome to Bielefeld.
Thanks for the invitation.
Thank you for coming. Since 2006 you have been the Ambassador of Bolivia here in Germany. Could you tell us something about how you became Ambassador and since when you have been working with Evo Morales?
Well, in fact my work is part of the historical process; you have to see the current circumstances in my country. My relationship with the President (Evo Morales) is based on the issue of the coca leaf. My thesis deals with the coca leaf and therefore we met at different events about/related to coca, and I learned many important things during those meetings.
I have been Ambassador since September 2006, which has to do with the historical circumstances in Bolivia. Actually I didn´t study to become an Ambassador, I studied Communication, Anthropology and some Politics and I graduated specializing on “Innovation and Competitiveness.” Actually, I was invited to take that position. I think that this depended on, how to say, the historical situation, we wanted to change things, like we called it, a “diplomacy of the peoples” as a different form of diplomacy with other countries. Our vision has changed; right now we are not only in a dialogue on the level of state functionaries but a dialogue with the society itself. We are participating in dialogues with the civil society, with the academia and students in order to communicate the process in Bolivia in the dimension that we want it to be understood.
Five years ago Evo Morales won the elections with the promise to found a new Bolivia. What are, in your opinion, the most important changes that took place in your country?
We said that we had to regain our dignity, our sovereignty and that we have to be part of the process of constructing a new horizon. You have to keep in mind that we had lived for more than 20 years within the neoliberal logic, that we have been an experiment of the Washington Consensus. This impoverished society on all levels. In other words, we could say that the neoliberal model made illegal and legal salesmen out of academics. Because academics were transformed into a commodity inside the neoliberal model, in which they work in order to sell their studies.
The neoliberal model is something very permissive, in Bolivia it led to a self-impoverishment of society and it left a huge sector of unemployment, for examples the miners where dispelled from their jobs.
This actually created the mentality that the state has to be used for personal profit. “You don’t have to serve the state; you have to serve yourself from the state” was the logic of the public functionaries.
Today, we have changed this concept. We say that we are no more functionaries but servants of the state. To say, there is a first change that has to be noted, too, because this process has to be seen inside an ethical scale. Because if we don’t consider this ethical scale, we will remain on implications that say: Right now there is a government of Indios versus whites, what is unreal and besides is not the matter here. The matter is that the Bolivian society was tired of the neoliberal government and had to formulate a new alternative. And the President formulated sovereignty and, well, dignity. In reality Bolivia did not decide about its development on its own, it was defined by foreign aid, by the constructors of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund or the Embassies which had influence in Bolivia.
And, well, that is a real thing, today we have dignity, we have sovereignty, and we define our appropriate laws on the basis of our social and economic demands, which are of short and long range. Because they left us a debt which dates far back and we have to keep paying those social debts, even if it is not our debt from the last five years. Well, it is from the republican years, from the neoliberal years and there is an historical debt, too, right? Here we have to talk about how colonialism left us with this debt.
Well, if we touch this issue now: We have read that one of the central goals of the new constitution of Bolivia is to improve the lives of the indigenous people. What are the most important changes that took place in this context? Did a lot change? What is your opinion in this respect?
It’s a process. What we are experiencing in Bolivia is a process, and part of that process is the reoccupation of dignity. During the last years we had exhaustion on the indigenous side. No professional could declare himself indigenous, because it was considered, well, as something unacceptable. If one observes anthropologically the rites of passage, how a human lives his live, we can recognize here how colonialism is structured, why we have coloniality, right? The schools empty your indigenous soul, they tell you plainly that you belong to a universal culture, whereas this universal culture in reality is only a construction. Well, (here: in Bolivia?) there are different forms of inhabiting the world, different forms of relating human beings with nature, and the humans in the Andean World relate themselves in terms of complementarities, whereas in the occident the relation is one of domination. Culture is the domination of nature, right? If so, in that respect there is a change. This relation, this cosmovision is recognized in the constitution and here begins the empowerment of, let us say, the Andean-Amazonian cultures in Bolivia.
Here in Germany you hear a lot about the new concept called “buen vivir”. What is that exactly?
The Suma Qamaña comes from the Aymara, right? Suma Qamaña, Sumak Kawsay, there are a variety of words. If you want to understand the Suma Qamaña you have to see it in the broader context, it is a way how to live your life, it is a Taki, like we say in Aymara, right? You have to walk the life, but how do you walk your life? Practicing domination or practicing complementarity? And, if you are practicing the complementarity concept you construct a different form of making your social network, right? There is a concept, also an Aymaran one, the Ayni. In this regard we would have to talk about the culture of complementarity to achieve a constant reciprocity in the Andes.
Referred to the concept of “buen vivir”, what has to change in Germany, in the German way of life?
Well, each culture has its history. Basically a society receives its input out of its history and constructs itself in that way. I am not an expert in German history or German culture, I am not a sociologist of German culture. Then I cannot give advice about German culture, right? But I can give you an analysis of the Andean world. That is to say how we perceive ourselves and how we want to construct our horizon. And that horizon, how can I explain it to you, derives out of relation of comlementarity. We have to state that a society of complementarity exists in which the principle is not luxury, because “buen vivir” also means not to seek a luxury life. If society means consumerism it makes you a consumer of ideas, too, a consumer of illusions. If you start to think about how marketing techniques are selling all this unnecessary stuff. People do not need many things to live. But out of fear of accidents you have to contract insurances in order to feel secure. But secureness also derives out of our inner harmony and that is something that nobody can sell. This has to do with the secureness of your own, with your cosmovision that you are practicing and fulfilling.
The concepts you have are very interesting, but now let us talk about economy. Which perspectives for the economic and ecological sphere of Bolivia do you see after the discovery of great deposits of lithium?
It is similar to the situation of gas. The neoliberals always said to us that gas was a big deal for Bolivia. They said that they have done a good bit of business with Brazil and Argentina. They paid $1,02 per million BTU, the British unit of measure for gas. At that moment, the price on the international market was US$5. The same people said to us, we have studied at Harvard, we have studied at the best universities The reality was that this model impoverished us. They said that the deal was good, but it was a bad one. When we nationalized strategic companies, like the gas company, our international currency reserves reached almost 1,000 million dollars, nowadays there are more than 10,000 million dollars.
We have to see the difference. We cannot allow them to treat us the same way they treated us before. They imposed the treaties on us. We had to sign the treaties in other countries, today it is different. We negotiate the treaties, we negotiate them in Bolivia in accordance to our constitution. We are willing to discuss the lithium matter with those countries and companies that accept our constitution. That implies that there are environmental laws, too. It will be a process. It might take 5 or 10 years of negotiation. This cannot be done by tomorrow, it is a process of negotiation about the lithium case and of course you have to consider everything important for the environment.
But we have to make something clear. Many people of the political sphere tell us that we, the indigenous communities and the cultures of the Andes and the Amazonas, have to protect the environment. But in the sense of us being conservationists. Do we have to continue, in this sense, to say that we are not able to industrialize our country? And do we have to continue with our economic role of exporting raw materials? No! We are also able to industrialize our country. Until recently, the West only tried to penalize us, and besides the environmental and other related politics, they try to discredit our process of change. We say, with lots of dignity, that we will negotiate about the topic of lithium properly and we will work hard to support the industrialization to extract not only lithium but also other raw materials in Bolivia.
How would you describe the standing in the international community, and especially in Latin America? Was there a huge change during the last years?
Yes, it changed quite a lot. Now Bolivia has the chance to speak within the United Nations. We supported that water is a human right. We also supported the introduction of the Day for Mother Earth and we have a strong position on the topic of climate change.
You all know what happened in Copenhagener and in Cancun. Bolivia defended its position in Cancun and we stood there alone along with our dignity defending our position. For us, the earth is our mother, she is sick and we stand for a position to respect our mother. We do not enter the emissions trading and we do not accept it. Because the bankers will continue their way of trading like they did with the toxic funds. They can contaminate the industrialized countries but the developing countries are forced to sell only raw materials. No, that is not right. We will not enter in such a gloomy world, without transparency according to the emissions of these gloomy certificates. We are not willing to accept this way.
For you, as an educated person, which things changed in respect to the Bolivian universities during the last years?
You have to ask the directors of the universities and you have to analyze the results of the scientific community in Bolivia. The universities are in a process of restructuration. We created three indigenous universities because we want to guarantee the access to universities for people coming out of the Amazonian cultures (Chaquenhas, the valley and the high lands). Their cultures have the right to systematize their knowledge. The traditional universities only copied the developed systems of other countries and transferred it to Bolivia. This is a construct of inner colonization. Please, recognize this. It is a form of colonizing a country by implying the models of development, models of analysis and models of presenting the things. The agricultural students were sellers of chemical fertilizers. We cannot present us in a modern world with producing gene-modified products. That’s it and we cannot continue on this path. For that reason, we are challenging the universities in Bolivia to change.
Well, Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much for sharing some of your time with us. We learned a lot about your country. It´s an honor to have you here in Bielefeld as an orator! Thank you!
It´s me, who should be thanking you.